Long Time Coming: 2020 Philippine Cup Preview

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Finally.

This is exactly what we expected before the PBA Bubble even started This is a match-up straight out of a Wrestlemania Pay-Per-View. It’s a clash between the two most popular teams of their respective group of companies. Both have been viewed as titans in the PBA for the longest time now.

Fans wanted this. Both teams wanted this. Getting to this stage took longer than expected, but it’s finally happening: Barangay Ginebra San Miguel vs. TNT Tropang GIGA. Yet, despite their similarities, there’s a lot of differences between these two that add an extra layer of spice to a series that promises to be extremely eventful.

What’s there to look forward to? Here’s the break down.

Barangay Ginebra San Miguel: The new gold standard?

What’s at stake for Ginebra?

Hanggang Brownlee lang kayo eh.

This is a ghost that’s been haunting the Gin Kings for four years now. They’ve won multiple championships throughout this stretch, but never in the Philippine Cup. They’ve only made the Finals once, in 2017 when they lost to the San Miguel Beermen. They’ve lost in the Quarterfinals twice, most notably last season when Magnolia beat them in three games.

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That’s not to say Ginebra isn’t a good team; you don’t win championships on luck or just having a good import alone. Just ask Meralco who’s had Allen Durham for years now. What’s at stake for them is this batch’s legacy in the grander scheme of things. A win in the Philippine Cup inches them closer to dynasty status. It sounds like such a luxury that doesn’t need to be attained, but in basketball, you can never be too greedy. A championship in the Bubble erases the claim of hanggang Brownlee lang kayo.

Why should we believe in Ginebra?

The Gin Kings came out of the elimination round as the steadiest team in the entire league, and they remain exactly that going into the Finals. This is a team that is balanced on all fronts. It’s difficult to find a large gaping hole that can be easily exposed in their armor.

It’s easy to doubt Ginebra’s offense because of how bad their scoring was against Meralco but consider that as a testament to just how good the Bolts truly were. Coach Norman Black did a tremendous job at coaching that group.

Against other teams, the Gin Kings will be just fine putting the ball inside the hoop. The firepower across the Ginebra roster is on another level. Leading the charge will be Stanley Pringle and Japeth Aguilar’s inside-out attack, but don’t sleep on LA Tenorio’s steady playmaking, Scottie Thompson’s offensive rebounding, and the outside shooting of their big men. This is a deep team. It shows with their wealth of offensive options.

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But what makes Ginebra a top-of-its-class team isn’t their offense; it’s their defense. Against TNT, it will especially be important.

It would be irresponsible to look at Ginebra based on their individuals alone. They don’t play defense that way. What makes this team so good at stopping teams is because of their team defense. It’s on this end of the floor where we are witness to Coach Tim Cone’s greatness. This group is able to cover up holes by making smart reads and responsible gambles. They don’t box up their schemes with one plan; they’re a flexible group that’s willing to adjust when the situation calls for it. There is always a Plan B when someone gambles in the Gin Kings.

TNT Tropang GIGA: Can they finally break through?

What’s at stake for TNT?

The last five years for this TNT franchise have been filled with frustration and disappointment. Despite acquiring top-level talent through trades and Jayson Castro’s brilliance remaining as steady as ever, TNT’s been stuck in this limbo. They haven’t even been bridesmaids. They’ve been outside the church watching their rivals win championship after championship every year.

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It wasn’t a coincidence that TNT’s celebration after beating Phoenix was that joyful. That’s what happens when you make it to the Philippine Cup Finals for the first time in SEVEN years. This felt like a huge step of what could be a breakthrough for them.

It’s just a step, however. Job’s not finished for the Tropang GIGA. A win in the Finals re-establishes this franchise as a true contender in the PBA. Just like how it was seven years ago.

Why should we believe in TNT?

In one word? Talent.

While Ginebra champions depth, TNT’s top-level talent is arguably the best in the league right now. Bobby Ray Parks could very well be the MVP of the Bubble. Castro, despite his struggles, is still a living legend who can win you games when he needs to. Surround those two with elite complementary pieces such as RR Pogoy and JP Erram, and you have a roster that’s built to contend against the Gin Kings.

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This team is built to score. They rank first in terms of points per game coming into the Finals. By anchoring its system around the attention Parks and Castro generate, what we get is basketball that is simple but effective. Let your best players feast and the rest will follow.

But another thing that stood out, especially during their do-or-die against Phoenix: their defense. It was something they had trouble with the entire series, but suddenly, with everything on the line, the Tropang GIGA just turned it up a notch and put up a masterclass that surely made Coach Mark Dickel proud. They made the correct gambles and forced Phoenix to take bad shots. Their bulldog aggressiveness pushed the Fuel Masters to an uncomfortable state it couldn’t get out of. When this team wants to win, they can definitely do it.

Simplifying your offense, playing like your life depended on it all matter. But it all goes back to their talent. It is the base of what makes this team so good and that should be celebrated.

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Who you got?

Not all dream matches live up to the hype. This will be one of them.

My lukewarm take: Ginebra in 6. My hot take: Ginebra in 5.

This isn’t anything against TNT, I think their firepower is built to give any team lots of trouble. But the Gin Kings have them beat with experience, depth, defense, and most importantly, coaching. The talent gap between the two teams isn’t wide enough for me to give TNT the edge.

This is the first Philippine Cup Finals Active Consultant Mark Dickel is in. It’s a completely different monster. Coach Tim Cone has built a system and a culture that’s built to win in any stage that doesn’t have June Mar Fajardo in it. One of Stanley Pringle, Japeth Aguilar, or Scottie Thompson might win Finals MVP, but when everything’s said and done, Coach Tim Cone should receive a large chunk of the credit for this win. He’s the GOAT PBA Coach for a reason.